Disclosure: The Historic Park Inn Hotel hosted our stay. However, all opinions are my own.
With thin, cream-colored brick, intricate detailing and large picture windows that hint at what’s hidden inside, the Historic Park Inn Hotel will stop you in your tracks. The structure’s gilded detailing sparkles in the morning sunlight and its windows emit a warm ember glow each evening. Located in the heart of Mason City, Iowa, this is the last remaining hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the world. And, if you’re in the area, you can even spend the night there.
Designed by the renowned architect in 1909, this 27-room boutique hotel underwent a major restoration in 2011. Now its meticulously restored architectural features and modernized guest rooms shine. A stay in this historic hotel feels like stepping back to the turn of the century in the best possible way.
Whether you’re an architecture buff or just a traveler passing through, a stay at the Historic Park Inn Hotel is one you won’t soon forget. Keep reading to learn more about why you need to book a stay at this historic property as well as what you can expect when you arrive.
Rich Local History
It’s almost impossible to talk about the Historic Park Inn Hotel without referencing the role that the Mason City community had in its preservation. Opened in 1910, the property originally included a hotel. But it also housed the City National Bank and law offices of James E. Blythe and J. E. E. Markley.
However, after the farming crisis in 1926, the bank failed and the property was foreclosed on. Over the years, various businesses and accommodations divided the building further. In the early 1970s, an owner even turned it into apartments. But by the 1990s, the building was in disrepair and sat vacant, hosting only cobwebs and pigeons as guests.
That is, until 2000 when the city purchased the hotel. It was then that the community began rallying together to save the landmark and return it to its former glory. Over the next 10 years, the building underwent a more $18.5 million renovation to transform it back into Wright’s vision.
The Historic Park Inn Hotel reopened in 2011, more than 101 years after it originally welcomed guests through its doors. After a true labor of love, it had been returned to the Prairie Style jewel that it once was.
During our stay, we took a docent-led tour of the hotel through Wright on the Park, the nonprofit organization that owns the property and is responsible for its restoration and continued preservation. The tour dives into the history of the building and its unique architectural elements. You’ll also learn a lot about the work that went into restoring it. Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, I highly recommend a tour so you can take a peek inside and learn about a unique piece of Mason City history.
Designed in 1909 and built in 1910, the Historic Park Inn Hotel is a classic example of Wright’s Prairie Style architecture. Wright designed the hotel early in his career. But its design was so impactful that it influenced a large number of other Prairie School buildings in the area. In fact, Mason City has the largest collection of Prairie School designed homes that you’ll find anywhere in the world.
While he designed the building, Wright did not see the construction through. Around the time he completed designs for the project, Wright had an affair and eloped to Europe with the wife of one of his Oak Park, Illinois neighbors. In his absence, the project was passed off to be completed by William Drummond, one of the architect’s associates.
The building’s design is made up of three components — the hotel, the law firm and the City National Bank building. Originally these three entities all had separate entrances and did not connect in the building’s interior. But today, the hotel has slightly modified the footprint so there’s better flow within the space as a whole.
The Historic Park Inn Hotel shares many attributes with Wright’s other projects. The hotel’s design utilizes strong horizontal lines, ceiling and wall heights that force feelings of compression and release, and earth-tone colors in both the art glass and tile work. In the City National Bank building, you’ll find luxurious details like gold gilding on the grout between bricks, which Wright used in later building designs like the Allen House in Wichita, Kansas.
A few elements were preserved under drywall from the years the building served other uses. But many of the intricate glass pieces that exist in the hotel today are reproductions of what would have originally been part of Wright’s design.
After the restoration, the hotel’s exterior is almost identical to its original 1910 design.
Whether you’re staying at the Historic Park Inn Hotel or just visiting the Mason City area, you won’t want to miss out on the delicious on-property dining options. On the first floor of the historic hotel, you’ll find Markley & Blythe, an American tavern with sophisticated meat-forward dishes and an enticing selection of wine, beer and handcrafted cocktails.
During our visit to the hotel, we enjoyed a cozy dinner in the golden-hued Markley & Blythe dining room. As in the rest of the hotel, the restaurant’s dining space has been decorated with Prairie Style touches. Think custom light fixtures, tempered glass partitions and warm hued leather.
We started our meal with some of the restaurant’s handcrafted cocktails. I ordered a Blackberry Mojito while Josh enjoyed the Markley Mule. The potato rolls were a great appetizer to snack on while we sipped our drinks. And the whipped honey butter was a perfect addition.
When it came time for entrees, I opted for the Black Pepper Pappardelle Bolognese. This divine dish featured local pork, Iowa beef, San Marzano tomatoes, crème fraiche, parmesan and chives. Josh ordered the Chicken Schnitzel, which included beer mustard spaetzle, grilled kohlrabi, green onion gravy, garlic scapes and chives. Both of our meals combined rich flavors with hearty portions that left us feeling satisfied (and wishing we weren’t traveling so we could take home a doggie bag).
On the building’s lower level, you’ll find The Draftsman, aptly named as a nod to the hotel’s architect. This sunken lounge is the perfect place for happy hour or to enjoy a nightcap before turning in. After checking into the hotel, we grabbed a cocktail each. Then snacked on some beer-battered Wisconsin Cheese Curds while we planned our Mason City weekend.
During the summer, the restaurant has a patio on the east side of the hotel that allows visitors to dine with a view of the restored City National Bank building.
Like many of Wright’s buildings, The Historic Park Inn Hotel was designed to complement its surroundings. The former law office is discreetly hidden in the facade. And the City National Bank has high, thin windows to deter would-be burglars. But the windows of the hotel draw the neighboring green space inside. The hotel is conveniently located just off the Central Park. This makes it an easy walk to all of Mason City’s downtown restaurants and attractions.
In fact, one of my favorite communal spots in the hotel was the ladies’ balcony. Unlike the sunken balcony built for Markley and Blythe’s law firm, the ladies’ balcony is elevated. This was a spot to see and be seen by passersby. Located on the front of the hotel facing the park, this second-floor patio was the perfect spot to read a book, sip a drink and unwind after a day of exploring the area.
Comfortable Rooms & Amazing Amenities
When the hotel was first built in 1910, it boasted 43 10-by-10-foot rooms with communal bathrooms. However, when Wright on the Park began to make plans for restoration, they thought that modern day guests might like a little more privacy.
Today the property includes 27 hotel rooms with every modern amenity you could need. From high-speed Internet throughout the building to one of the squishiest hotel beds I’ve ever had the pleasure of sleeping in, a stay at the Historic Park Inn Hotel is like stepping back in time in style (and comfort).
During our visit, we stayed in a beautiful third-floor room with wraparound windows and a lovely view overlooking Central Park. On our tour of the property we learned that when rooms were combined for the renovation, it was required that a tiny piece of the original wall remain. It was fun to see those little notches as glimpses of the original footprint Wright laid out throughout the hotel.
Book Your Stay at the Historic Park Inn Hotel
Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or just looking for a fun weekend getaway, the Historic Park Inn Hotel is the perfect choice. With only 27 available rooms, the hotel can fill up quickly. So be sure to plan ahead to ensure you have the chance to stay in this iconic space.
Keep in mind when booking a stay that no two guest rooms are alike. Existing rooms were combined to allow for a more spacious floor plan. So every stay at this Wright-designed hotel will be a unique one.
When you book your stay, round out the experience by making a reservation at Markley & Blythe or reserving your spot on a tour with Wright on the Park.
The Historic Park Inn Hotel, 15 W. State Street in Mason City, Iowa
Share Your Thoughts
I would love to hear from you! Have you stayed at the Historic Park Inn Hotel? What are some of your favorite Frank Lloyd Wright buildings?